1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Basic Income Gaining Momentum

16 Jan 2017

Basic Income Gaining Momentum
The idea of unconditional basic income seems to be making headway in both government and business circles. In January 2017 Finland launched a 2-year basic income experiment, as announced by the Finnish Ambassador to the UN in Geneva at the 2016 UNRISD seminar on universal basic income, held on the occasion of a Swiss referendum on the topic. Another speaker at the seminar, Guy Standing, is a panellist at Davos, the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Annual Meeting, in a session titled “A Basic Income for All: Dream or Delusion?”

Public interest

The Finnish Social Insurance Institution, Kela, announced on 2 January 2017 the official launch of its basic income experiment, which explicitly aims to boost employment in the country and modernize the social security system. The 2,000 participants in the experiment, selected at random from those receiving unemployment benefit, will receive a monthly basic income of €560. This benefit will not be withdrawn if they generate other forms of income, likely to be part-time, temporary or self-employed work given the state of the labour market.

The experiment has been developed on the basis of research by several Finnish institutions with contributions from the Federation of Finnish Entrepreneurs and experts on municipal governance, tax law and constitutional matters. This experiment is intended to be the first of a series to test various basic income solutions.

Private interest

The private sector is also showing more and more interest in the idea of a basic income. The Davos session on 18 January on basic income will allow professors Guy Standing (SOAS) and Michael Sandel (Harvard) to debate with Nellie Koes (former Dutch and EU politician, now on the board of the Open Data Institute) on the pros and cons of a major social policy innovation.

The audience may be more receptive than one might think. The WEF’s publicity material this year emphasizes the diversity of its crowd, which it says is in line with a stakeholder approach aiming to “understand competing perspectives, develop empathy and work towards solutions that satisfy as many different interests as possible”. Indeed, captains of tech industries in particular have been expressing interest in basic income, to the point of starting their own experiments.

Social policy innovation

Basic income is just one social policy innovation of interest because if its potential to respond to a rapidly changing world of work and society. It and other innovations feature in UNRISD’s recent flagship report Policy Innovations for Transformative Change, which are examined there for their transformative potential and for the contribution they could make to the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.